One Life As Art

hand-painted terry cloth robe, 1987


I was recently invited by an old friend who is the owner of the primo art supply store- ARTISAN’S in Santa Fe, to write something for the monthly newsletter. This goes out to 7000 people so it is no small thing. It felt good to do because so many of my peers haven’t seen me in years so this was a chance to let them know I am ok.


Using the skills I learned as an artist to thrive in illness


I lost the whole damn thing. The “who” of me just wasn’t after a diagnosis of Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis in 2000. My right leg went first and over time disability has visited me in a hemispheric way affecting my beloved right side, generously allowing some use of my left.

My power wheelchair is fast. Growing up in Detroit I demand a cool ride with some sass. Surrendering my driver’s license turned my stomach. Seventeen years into this landscape of chronic illness has changed me for the better. It really all comes down to choice; in the moment do I go for the somewhat intoxicating (due to familiarity) downward spiral or do what it takes to elevate my self into “art” or something resembling beauty?

These are exactly the same decisions I faced over my long career as a textile designer, painter and sculptor. Life as an artist or musician or any uber-sensitive creative is precarious at best. We know the un-known intimately. Whether blank canvas, slab of clay or hungry piano keys…some THING has got to get done to make art. This tolerance of the unknown is the key to my curious “ok-ness” within the health challenges I live with. The big void is not the enemy for me as it, understandably, manifests for most. I know the thing, despise it, am frustrated by it, haunted by it, in love with it, addicted to it, nauseated by it yet have chosen it as my life-long partner. Why? Because in that very void is where all the magic lives.

To bring this closer to home here is a recent example: transferring from my wheelchair to my bed is a precarious move for me. I must park my chair facing the bed and exhaustingly use what little strength I have in my quads and push up to stand, pause, pirouette to place my behind on the bed. Very occasionally there comes a perilous moment when I understand the safe completion of this dance move is not going to happen and I slip with a groan to dead weight prone on the floor; a slow, yet uneventful humbling. This has happened twice before and I have a medical alert button around my neck I use to call the fire department to come get me up. Eight men in uniform enter my bedroom within minutes. I never have the right make-up on or even many clothes of course and the flush of embarrassment pours red for all to see.

The other day it happened once more and I realized I was bored by my historical hysteria and changed the story; like erasing a naïve charcoal line and replacing it lovingly and with elegant assuredness onto the paper to create something new. I pressed my safety button, adjusted my hair and clothing as best I could and lay there on the floor petting my dog in the lovely surety a host of gorgeous men were on their way to my bedroom. I was calm. They came in and I lay there smiling, looking up at a circle of hunkiness; thrilled as they exerted their herculean mastery and lifted me compassionately into bed. It was over in 10 minutes and the bright flashing lights of the EMT and fire trucks left my neighbors to the stories they would tell.
I, on the other hand, was easy in my body and oozing with gratitude for their help but mostly for the fact I had changed my own story from one fraught with angst to an (almost) fun encounter.

Don’t like the shade of red you chose for that paint stroke? Change the damn thing and move on.


Tidbits for the road:

1. Stay curious.

2. Asking for help does not mean anything other than you need some help. Let people be heroes.

3. By all means live with a dog.

4. Connect in small ways with those you don’t think need it or want it even. There are worlds there.

5. Try so hard you fail often enough not to fear it.

6. Your purpose is just to exist. Anything else is extra.

7. Judge profusely for 5 minutes max then soften back into yourself- nothing/no one can reach you if you are hardened into defense-mode.

10. Falling is just a new perspective. Look around. Find the gold. Bring it back.



8 Responses to “One Life As Art”

  1. Irene on August 3rd, 2018

    Thank you for this as I work on letting go of “pieces of the story” at last. I am diverting energy to more important, positive activity. Time to change…:)

  2. Becky Patterson on August 3rd, 2018

    “That is the very void Where magic lives”. This is your masterpiece . The nail
    On the head. Your legacy. The key to rising above whatever crisis or assignment you’ve been given. We don’t get to pick our cross. But how we react to it is your business. I am in such awe of your ability to communicate but moreover that you can live with such a spirit. I will return to read this. ” Make what you want out of what you have.” -George Washington Carver. Inventor

  3. Jenny on August 3rd, 2018

    It’s wonderful Cathy, just wonderful . Xx

  4. Barbara on August 3rd, 2018

    I always read your posts and think how truly beautiful they are. You seem to go exactly into the very essence of the thoughts of your daily life. Which touches everyone that reads it, as parts of your life is our life.

    Your writings need to be published.


  5. Karen on August 4th, 2018

    I will leave the profound writing to you, I just am grateful you exist and are willing
    to share in such a personal and unselfish way. I find such inspiration, you did not
    dissolve into a puddle, so I know not dissolving is a possibility that exists for me also. Seems simple, but thank you for the reminder, it is needed and appreciated.

  6. Barbara McDaniel on August 4th, 2018

    This is extraordinary, as are you, of course. Sally forth, brave one, leaving trails of glory! I love you always!

  7. Carol Aten on August 6th, 2018

    You deserve all kinds of hulkness and hunky rescue – you are way more lovely to help than a bad fire or *insert type* medical drama x

  8. Adele Rosen on August 7th, 2018

    Can I be jealous of firemen coming into your bedroom ?

Leave a Reply